NECSEMA Executive Director Reflects on First Anniversary of Massachusetts' Flavored Tobacco Ban

In an op-ed piece, Jonathan Shaer notes the legislation drove sales to neighboring states and the black market.
tobacco backbar at retail

BOSTON — June 1 marked one year since the Massachusetts ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products went into effect. The legislation made the Bay State the first in the country to bring flavor ban statewide.

However, the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association (NECSMA) is questioning the legislation's effectiveness.

In an op-ed piece in the Boston Herald, Jonathan Shaer, executive director of NECSMA, called the ban "a failed policy." According to Shaer, since its implementation, the state gas lost more than $140 million on menthol cigarettes alone.

"During the legislative debate in 2019, we warned that a billion dollars of demand for flavored tobacco existed in Massachusetts and where there is demand, there is a market. The only question would be where the products would be sold," he wrote. "The answer was either through the state's legal, licensed, regulated, enforced and taxed framework, or illicitly and untaxed — over state lines, online or through the black market. Now, thanks to Massachusetts' ill-advised policy, it's the latter."

He pointed out that the measure went ahead even though Massachusetts had a 95-percent statewide FDA-verified retailer compliance rate and neighboring New Hampshire is the No. 1 cigarette export state.

"One year later and with 11 months of cigarette excise tax stamp sales data publicly available, presumptions give way to facts. Massachusetts has lost more than $140 million while New Hampshire and Rhode Island have reaped almost $44 million and $25 million in newfound tax revenue, respectively," Shaer wrote. "Worse, the Ocean State and the Granite State have combined to sell 88 percent of cigarettes no longer sold in Massachusetts. Yes, nearly nine of 10 cigarettes once sold in Massachusetts are now sold by New Hampshire and Rhode Island, most of which are brought back into Massachusetts for personal consumption or illegal sale."

A few other states have taken up similar bans. Maryland lawmakers voted against a flavor ban, and Connecticut lawmakers amended a proposal to only include vapor products.

California voters will decide the future of the state's flavor tobacco ban in the November 2022 general election.